AMERICAN MANIA by Peter C. Whybrow


When More Is Not Enough
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Putting the entire country on a couch, psychiatrist Whybrow suggests that our depressions and dysfunctions, not to mention the erosion of our quality of life, are largely the result of runaway greed.

Are global corporations, heirs to Adam Smith’s free-market economy, driving Americans up the wall by satisfying desires only to create and intensify further desires in a workaholic nation? As individuals, we vastly out-labor the Europeans and Japanese; they, in turn, out-vacation us. We’ve heard all this before, but Whybrow (Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences/David Geffen School of Medicine; director, Neuropsychiatric Inst./UCLA) offers a behavioral case, replete with biochemical and neurological underpinnings, to argue that it’s not completely our fault. Unlike the authors of the upcoming Nation of Rebels , he doesn’t find any culture vs. counterculture shift, but posits America as an inherent “migrant culture,” self-selected by the unique nature of its founding on immigrant accretion for inability to perform a reality check against our manic pursuit of material wealth and its attendant status. Research on primates, the author relates with appropriate clinical gravity, shows that those individuals most likely to abandon the home troop for a fresh crack at survival and a status upgrade (scientists call it “dispersal”) have a slightly different brain chemistry than stay-at-homes and thus are predisposed to get bigger kicks from novelty, adventure, and risk-taking. A few million evolutionary years and one Statue of Liberty later, with 98 percent of us descended from families migrating to these shores within the last 300 years, here we are walking around with a special serotonin-dopamine soup in our brains: We must have that American Dream, and if it’s at the mall, so be it. But if acquisition of material wealth is “a blind alley,” as Whybrow believes, what to do? His suggestions are somewhat formulaic, accrued from acquaintances he finds exemplary of those able to unlearn “heroic overscheduling” and refocus on a new definition of happiness.

For serious workaholics and their victims, worth considering.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-393-05994-4
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2004


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